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10 Free (or Nearly Free) Activities for Kids

You can enlighten, educate and entertain your young offspring without breaking the bank

Grandmother and kids visiting museum, Summer Fun for Kids (and You) on the Cheap (Blend Images/Alamy)

Blend Images/Alamy

Visiting a museum can be a low-cost (and air conditioned) way to enjoy a hot summer day.

Kids of all ages want summer fun that's a break from the ordinary, especially from those dog days of boredom.

The good news is that parents and grandparents can provide lots of fun activities without breaking the bank.

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While they're at it, they can even provide some priceless lessons, skills and memories.

If you're prepping for another summer with stay-at-home kids or visiting grandchildren, consider these wallet-friendly ways to make the most of "together" time.

1. See how it's made

Unlock the marvels of manufacturing for thousands of American-made products by going on factory tours that are often free and usually educational. Visit Factory Tours USA for listings of nearly 600 offerings, searchable by state, product or industry.

2. Amuse 'em at a museum

Check with musuems near you about free or low-cost admission and other summer programs for kids on select days. Some credit cards and member organizations also offer special museum admission deals.

3. See pros play

If the young 'uns (or you) are pigskin fans, you can go hog-wild at National Football League training camps, usually mid-to-late July. Admission to preseason practices is often free, or a small fraction of a game ticket, and some training camps offer "family fun" events for a more fan-friendly experience. Contact franchises or visit for dates and locations (typically posted in early July).

4. Spare the expense of bowling

Kids can bowl two games per day for free — every day, all summer long — at some 1,000 bowling centers across the U.S. and Canada participating in Kids Bowl Free. Preregistration is required (you'll need to print and bring passes to your designated lanes), and if you want to do more than just keep score, low-cost family passes allow up to four adults to participate.

5. Angle for free fishing

With the exception of Alaska, every state (and the District of Columbia) holds no-license-required days, ideal for newbies to, ahem, test the waters — and maybe even provide dinner. Get details on summer's free fishing days at, where you can also download a free app for iPhone and Android smartphones that features more than 35,000 boat ramps and marinas in the U.S. where you can launch or dock a boat.

6. Turn half-pints into handymen (and handywomen)

In addition to free weekend "how-to" workshops for adults, Home Depot hosts them for kids between ages 5 and 12 on the first Saturday of each month, while Lowe's offers them on select weekends. In these clinics, kids get the lowdown on do-it-yourself projects and typically build a wooden craft they can keep.

7. Let them be crafty

For those who prefer pipe cleaners and beads for their creative construction, MichaelsHobby Lobby and A.C. Moore host regular, in-store crafts classes specifically for kids; many are free, others cost $5 or less. Lego stores hold free, monthly model-building events. Meanwhile, any-aged offspring -— or you — might enjoy spilling creative juices at, where uploaded photos can be tweaked into cartoons, Warhol-esque painting or who-knows-what.

8. Host a yard sale

You can get rid of clutter, teach some entrepreneurial-enhancing skills and earn a few bucks. For the best turnout, pick a Saturday morning — and have the kids spend Friday designing and hanging signs in the neighborhood. You can post a free advertisement on Craigslist and in some community newspapers.

9. Instill a science alliance

No disrespect to the classic "volcano" made from baking soda, vinegar and food coloring, but an at-home Science Fair can reap more inventive, if not yuck-inducingly offbeat, projects — and also help your kids get a jump on mandated assignments for the coming school year. Find dozens of creative experiments, for various skill levels and ages, at, or other websites by doing a Web search on "science experiments." Most projects can be done with less than $20 of already kitchen-stocked or store-bought materials.

10. Hit the big screen (at a small price)

They may not be new releases, but some theaters have free or low-cost showings of family-friendly films, typically on weekday mornings. Chains offering freebies include REI Cinemas, Muvico and Clearview Cinemas. Admission is $1 at Regal as well as Cinemark and Century theaters, with the latter providing a $5 punch card to see 10 films in its series.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.


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